Third parties should be given right to complain about lawyers

Monday 11th June 2012

Home buyers and sellers whose transactions are messed up or delayed by someone else’s solicitor could be given rights to complain to the Legal Ombudsman.

It is not yet clear whether estate agents would also be allowed to complain about sloppy conveyancing, or whether the right to complain about an obstructive solicitor could extend up and down the entire chain.

The proposal comes from the Legal Services Consumer Panel, which says that non-clients should have a general right to complain about solicitors.

At the moment, you can only complain about your own solicitor – not, for example, the other party’s conveyancer who may have lost information or dragged their heels.

But the Legal Services Consumer Panel says that the current exclusion of almost all third-party complaints from the jurisdiction of the Legal Ombudsman does not incentivise lawyers to treat third parties fairly.

The Legal Ombudsman is currently consulting on specifying circumstances in which third parties should be allowed to complain, but the panel recommends making all third-party complaints eligible, unless it would impair the proper pursuit and administration of justice.

The panel specifically picks out conveyancing as an area where a non-client could complain.

Panel chairwoman Elisabeth Davies said: “If you’ve experienced poor legal services and suffered detriment, then you should be able to obtain a remedy. It’s wrong that some consumers cannot currently complain to the Legal Ombudsman.

“Denying third parties access to redress also creates weak incentives for firms to behave fairly and is a missed opportunity for lawyers to learn from their mistakes.”

Rob Hailstone, of the Bold Group, said the move could ‘open a can of worms’.

He said: “Will this mean that buyers and sellers up and down a chain could complain? How about potential tenants waiting to move into a property being purchased by the would-be landlord? What about estate agents and financial advisers, etc?

“Even if this only goes as far as letting third-party buyers and sellers complain, it could open up a whole can of worms for the Legal Ombudsman. As most conveyancers and estate agents are only too aware, there is nothing like a lengthy conveyancing chain for the parties involved to play the blame game.”

However, Hailstone added: “Over my 25 years as a residential conveyancer I have been involved in hundreds of conveyancing transactions where a number of conveyancers have repeatedly provided a bad service.

“Losing documents, not returning phone calls, taking time off without proper delegation taking place or, in the case of one particular large volume conveyancer, sending out the same computerised letter time and time again. The additional stress caused by those few is felt up and down a conveyancing chain.

“If this proposal, once properly thought through, puts a stop to that, it can only be good for all of the other parties involved and the reputation of the profession.”

(12) Comments

Added by FitforPurpose on 2013-02-10 14:44:19

It is possible to complain about a solicitor working for someone else, but the complaint must be made to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The two problems here are that (1) the SRA cannot offer compensation and (2) according to an FOI request in 2009, 98% of complaints did not result in a penalty for the solicitor. This rather begs the question whether the SRA are fit for purpose. To test this, I am publishing my current complaint about a law firm to the SRA and all their responses at http://thomasEggarSRAcomplaint.blogspot.co.uk. Lets see what happens!
Added by Whiter than white on 2012-06-11 13:23:40

Isn't this a bit like the CCTV camera debate. If you aren't doing anything wrong why worry? Surely it would be good to weed out consistent offenders?
Added by Dave@CW on 2012-06-11 12:30:16

Odd how the people who usually cause the problems are those who seem to want more rights to complain.
Added by LegalEagle on 2012-06-11 12:07:31

This is the single most ridiculous idea ever.

What next? Buyers at the bottom of a chain complaining about agents and lawyers at the top whose 'crimes' are likely to have been the result of Chinese whispers or diversion for the real people at fault. Its easy to blame others when there is no means of checking.

The last thing we need is more avenues for free complaints. Its bad enough for directly associated parties having free redress under the 'its worth a try' initiative let alone complaining about services you have never experienced based upon hearsay and conjecture.

Added by perspective? on 2012-06-11 12:01:47

It would better if 'third parties' could complain about difficult buyers who misrepresent their position and greedy vendors who would sell their own kids for an extra £50 rather than the lawyers who are paid to follow instructions. .
Added by Anonymous Coward on 2012-06-11 11:17:09

In general I find that *most* solicitors are brilliant at conveyancing, in that I would even include a few of the conveyancing farm companies - Premier Property Lawyers are brilliant (so far...).

There are a few notable exceptions - Countrywide are horrendous, a few local stick in the muds too you just groan when your vendor says "Oh, I've used them for years..."

Usually, if it goes wrong and there are delays and the client agrees that the service is poor, I recommend that they ask for a law society review of the bill.

I understand that the process is exhaustive and very definitely not worth going through so most solicitors just cancel the bill completely.

Doesn't help with the transaction but it is VERY satisfying to know that some pompous moron of a solicitor gets the treatment they deserve.

;-)
Added by LondonAgent on 2012-06-11 11:07:05

No and No - its my honest opinion.

There are good and bad as with all businesses - we tend to use lawyers with whom we have built relationships and with whom we have dialogue.

We don't have many problems and the lawyers with who problems are experienced are often the cut price merchants - in that agents and lawyers have something in common - you often (not always) get what you pay for.
Added by @LondonAgent on 2012-06-11 11:02:51

Is that really your honest opinion? Are you trying to bed one or are you married to one?
Added by Anon on 2012-06-11 10:21:49

Build relationships with local firms and avoid bucket shops.

The agents who get 'commissions' or 'introducer's fees' have much to answer for - lawyers who offer these fee's are as guilty if not more so.

It builds resentment - get paid a decent fee for a decent job and work together.
Added by Ray Evans on 2012-06-11 09:52:14

@Gordon Brown on 2012-06-11 09:22:51
@LondonAgent on 2012-06-11 08:46:28

After 35 years in the business my opinion is that many, not all, conveyancing lawyers in a practise treat conveyancing as an easy money maker and are slow and uncooperative to agents who are treated by most conveyancers as a lower form of life and an inconvenience - although agents provide them with clients and future ongoing work in other fields.
Added by Gordon Brown on 2012-06-11 09:22:51

London Agent

You're my hero - tell it like it is!

Nevertheless, there are still lawyers dabbling in conveyancing who shouldn't be. If they can be removed from the market place through non-qualification for the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Standard, and then fees can reach a realistic level so that lawyers can pay a decent wage for decent staff, and aren't forced by circumstance to take on too many cases just to make a profit, we might reach client Utopia
Added by LondonAgent on 2012-06-11 08:46:28

No - they really shouldn't. It will just increase costs and slow things further.

Most lawyers do a great job - its vendors / buyers who hide behind client confidentiality as an excuse which cant be contradicted by their conveyancer.

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